[Above photo: The author in front of her grandparents’ computer, late 1980s]
There is this odd time of year when my Facebook feed is filled with friends with remarkably similar status updates: some version of “It’s been crazy and I know I’m supposed to do this personally but if I wronged you this year, I am sorry.” It’s a sign that Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Repentance, is coming – but does a blanket Facebook status or Tweet constitute a real apology?
In the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and especially in the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (a period known as the Ten Days of Repentance), we are asked to examine our actions and ask for forgiveness for mistakes/sins/transgressions we have committed, against G-d, and against our fellow humans. Our teachings say that G-d erases our sins against G-d on Yom Kippur, but the bulk of our mistakes generally take place between us and another person. To wipe these human-to-human transgressions off of our slates, we have a few steps to take on the road to teshuvah (literally “return,” but used to mean “repentance”).
Traditionally, the way to true teshuvah involves these four parts:
- Actually regret your actions. This is not a “sorry you feel that way” or “#sorrynotsorry” situation.
- Let go of the negativity. Don’t dwell in the anger/sadness/frustration of the situation.
- Actually verbalize what you did wrong (to the person whom you wronged).
- Resolve to not repeat the mistake.
So how does Facebook figure into this? Many people (myself included) have been using Facebook as a way to “blanket-apologize” to our networks for mistakes. But does that actually fit the idea of true teshuvah?
Yes and no.
Facebook has given us all a broader digital reach. It has increased our ‘friendprint’ like never before. Not only can I say I’m sorry to my amazing friend in LA, who I haven’t seen in years but who holds a special place in my heart, for not being as present in our friendship as I should have been… but I can also use that as an opportunity to educate my non-Jewish friends on the Jewish holidays and our traditions. Facebook (and digital platforms in general) are the present and the future. I totally understand that and though I love hand-writing an old-fashioned, snail mail card of thanks or apology, my son will likely not utilize that method of communication when he is my age. We have to change the paradigm so teshuvah works in a digital space.
Great! You’ve convinced me! But wait, why is this also a no?
Because for the majority of the posts, it is a blanket statement, not directed at any particular person or situation. “If I did anything intentionally or unintentionally to hurt you, I’m sorry.” That doesn’t really check any of the boxes. If you can’t identify what you did wrong, what could have hurt someone, you can’t actually regret the action. You can’t let go of the emotion around the situation because you can’t identify it. You can’t verbalize it and you can’t resolve to not do it again. These four points are so key to finding growth after any negative experience. Without identifying them and going through the process of course-correction, something about that situation still lives inside your head or heart.
So can I ask for forgiveness online? What can I do?
Asking for forgiveness online is ok. But be intentional. Making the statement “I know I made mistakes, I may not have even realized I made them but I am sorry for having made them” creates the structure for change.
So if you can identify specific people with whom you have experienced challenging behavior, events or interactions, talk to those people separately, and follow the four steps mentioned above.
And if you do make a blanket statement on Facebook, include – as a friend of a friend did – a message like this:
“In honor of the High Holy Days, I ask humbly for forgiveness for any pain I have caused you… but let’s not leave it there. Send me a private message and be specific. I want to know how I hurt you and specifically do teshuvah. There are so many unintentional mistakes we all make but let’s try to clear it up and allow me to grow and learn, confess and make amends or tell you my truth, and then, together, move forward.”
Talia Davis Haykin is a Denver based freelance writer, social media strategist, and reformed actor. She is also the mom of a (very handsome) little boy and pup, Soba Schnoodle. In her free time (ha) she and her husband grow thousands of pounds of food each season and make award-winning hard apple cider. She also occasionally blogs at Talia, She Wrote.